The peculiarities of science in the outback

Tuesday 13 January 2015

By Sarah Tynan

Lizard and goanna wrangling is not in the duty statements of any of the staff at the RSES Warramunga Seismic and Infrasound Research Station… but perhaps it should be.

On the traditional lands of the Warramunga people, deep in the Northern Territory outback, around 35 kilometres southeast of Tennant Creek, the Warramunga Seismic and Infrasound Research station maintains an array of 24 underground seismometers. The station measures the vibrations in the Earth caused by earthquakes, but is also part of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation, an international organisation that monitors the planet for seismic activity related to nuclear explosions.

The station recently carried out an instrument upgrade, after which the technicians noticed some unusual signals coming from the seismometers. Upon investigation, they found a number of lizards and goannas had taken up residence in the cool underground shafts that housed the seismometers. Being in the order of 10 metres deep, once the lizards had made their way into the shafts, they couldn’t get out again.

Sadly, some of the lizards did not survive this misadventure. However, several of them were still alive, though a little worse for wear. Not wanting any further harm to come to the animals, but needing to get their instruments working properly again, the station staff called upon Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife to rescue the survivors.

The lizards and goannas were successfully retrieved from the shafts, and those that needed it were given some TLC from the rangers. After a few weeks, they were restored to good health and released. Overall, a happy ending.

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